The term ‘Industrial Revolution’ was first coined by Arnold Toynbee, an English historian, in 1884 within his book Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England. In this, he examines the social and cultural changes that took place in England thanks to developments and modernisation of the methods of production, and technological changes that facilitated the new market (such as railways) in the 18th and 19th centuries.
By definition, ‘revolution’ is ‘a sudden, complete or marked change in something’. The definition of the word needs to be considered as we explore how the idea of a European Industrial Revolution had been challenged. Drawing upon an example of the Russian Revolution; a monarchy was overthrown, the ending of the russian empire and the introduction of a vastly different political and economic system was introduced in under a year (although one could argue it had been building for a long time beforehand).
In this essay we will first explore the traditionalist view of the Industrial Revolution, and then go on to analyse in what ways this has been challenged by ‘revisionist’ historians, using material already studied in this module and supplemented by independent research.
The traditionalist view of the Industrial Revolution is firstly that it originated from Britain. This was due to a number of factors according to Rostow1; such as an abundant resource of fairly-skilled human capital (although now as skilled as Sweden and Prussia2), richness of natural resources and an advanced economic banking bureaucracy. Secondly, the traditional thesis is that the continent imitated the British model. This thesis can be traced back to Karl Marx, when studying Britain at the height of it’s economic and industrial power, he wrote in the preface of his famous book Capital ‘The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to less developed, the image of it’s own future’.3 This view is backed up by traditionalist Sidney Pollard, who argued ‘The process started in Britain and the industrialisation of Europe took place on the British model; it was, as far as the continent was concerned, purely and deliberately an imitative process’.4 Thirdly, traditionalists generally maintain similar dates as to when the ‘Revolution’ started in Britain, with Toynbee dating it 1760-1820 in his lectures at Oxford University that were subsequently published into his famous book mentioned previously,5 and Thomas Ashton dating the period 1760-1830 in his influential book The Industrial Revolution6. However, these dates are regularly debated and in historiography this model is fiercely contested. Now that the traditionalist view has been explained, we will go on to look how it has been challenged by more contemporary academics.
Firstly; Historiographically, it is generally accepted that the ‘european industrial revolution’ had it’s origins in Britain (although revisionist thinkers do not advocate the use of the term ‘industrial revolution’). Factors contributing to the general agreement that it originated in Britain are physical factors, such as the technological achievements, rich natural resources, a large pool of human capital and a stable political base from which to launch. In McNeill’s book A World History, he feels that ‘This was the age of coal and steam, when the railroad conferred a new speed and efficiency upon overland transport, and when improvements in ocean shipping led to the substitution of steel hulls and steam-driven water screws for wood and sail.’, this is important because he then states ‘all were first introduced or attained their earliest large-scale development in Great Britain.’. Very few academics and scholars have disputed this fact, this is due to the huge wealth of statistics, facts and graphs we have at out disposal to analyse; such as GDP, coal consumption, documents detailing a countries imports and exports, and